Mayor’s Meeting Summary 06/9/2022

Hello Montreaters,

The Council, staff and approximately 14 attendees convened for the meeting while others joined us by Zoom. If you would like to view the recording, CLICK HERE. Here is my summary of the Public Forum and Council meeting. Remember you can read the complete, official summary in the meeting minutes that will be published next month.

Public Forum

  • Letta Jean Taylor, former Montreat mayor, asked several budget/finance related questions:
    • She inquired about the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds we receive and how much we have remaining. When all is said and done, ARPA will have sent the Town $277,269. They have paid half and we expect the other half in late summer. Between what has already been spent and what we have planned for in the budget, we will have a remaining balance of $86,108 that we must spend by 2026.
    • She asked that ff we were to raise the tax rate one cent per $100 of property valuation (which we are NOT doing), what would that be equivalent to in new revenue? Acting Administrator Ben Blackburn responded that he estimated that it would mean an additional $25,000 in revenue. A quick calculation made after the meeting came to approx. $28,000 in additional revenue. Ben was very close.
    • She asked what percentage the Fund Balance is to our annual budget. Again, Ben responded that right now it is 18% against a Council established rate of 35%. However, fund balance is calculated only once per year by the auditors as part of the annual audit. Come the next audit (for 2020-2021 as we are behind one year) it is estimated to increase to  32%—  much more in line with the 35% target.
    • She also asked what the $3,500 Office Expense item was in the Planning & Zoning budget. But with the other questions, we forgot to answer her. Digging around the budget detail, I found that it is for GIS Imaging software. Sorry about that, Letta Jean.
  • Bill Scheu, Chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission, “delivered” the final report from P&Z’s May 12 meeting where they heard an application for a conditional zoning request. At the conclusion of the hearing, the P&Z Commission deliberated then voted to approve the request. This was the first time the new conditional zoning ordinance had been applied and he was quite pleased at the process and said others involved said it is an effective tool in our zoning ordinances. It will now come to the Town Council for a public hearing and subsequent action.

There were no other questions or comments.

Council Meeting

  • In the Administrator’s comments, Ben thanked residents and the Council for their support of staff in preparing the budget. Staff worked extremely hard gathering information and data for, what Ben feels, is a very solid, conservative budget that can be met. I couldn’t help but comment that Ben himself was the leader of this effort, having started the job just weeks before the budget process began. Ben has been a significant asset to us in his less than five months on the job.
  • For the first time in recent memory, there were no Public Comments in either of the two Comment periods, so we moved on to New Business.
  • Under New Business
    • We held a Public Hearing regarding the 2022-2023 proposed budget. Letta Jean Taylor made several comments, including:
      • Black Mountain and Asheville are providing staff with 6% increases in salary, and we are providing only 5%. She encouraged us to rethink it due to difficult economic conditions and increase the salaries 6%.
      • She expressed concern about the deferral of capital equipment and projects, including the purchase of a new chipper and dump truck as well as a minimal amount of street repairs and repaving.
      • Therefore, she recommended we increase the tax rate by one cent to help fund those needed salaries, equipment and other services.
    • The Council then approved the 2022-2023 budget as presented with no tax increase. If you would like to see it, CLICK HERE for the meeting agenda packet. The budget is on page 28.
    • The Council then approved a Continuing Resolution of the 2008 Comprehensive Plan until the new plan is completed later this year.
    • They also approved a Public Hearing regarding a Conditional Zoning application on July 14th at 7:00pm in the Community Room of the Town Hall.
    • The Council approved the change in government from a Mayor- Council form to a Council- Manager form. Contact Ben or any of the Council members if you have any questions on this action.
    • Finally, they approved the Landcare Committee’s Flat Creek Crossing Project to create an accessible trail to Flat Creek. We laud them in their plan to make Flat Creek accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  • In Commissioners’ Communications
    • Mayor Pro Tem Widmer congratulated the Town and particularly Water Specialist Jarod McIntosh and Public Works Director Barry Creasman for the perfect score that we received on our recent NC Dept of Environmental Quality water inspection. He also announced that Montreat received a $200,000 grant from the Land of Sky Metropolitan Planning Organization for the renovation of the Texas Road Bridge. However, there are lots of strings attached.
    • I saved my Mayor’s Communications for the end of the meeting. The Town has nine committees/boards, each one with at least six volunteers. It takes a great deal of effort to find individuals willing to serve on these important committees. As a part of the Hotel/Lodge appeal process, the opposition is deposing all seven of our Board of Adjustment members to answer questions about their past relationships with MRA, their partiality/impartiality and other issues that challenge their integrity as individuals and board members. It hurts me deeply that people on the opposition are creating an extremely difficult time for these volunteers and are being brought to question on the decisions they made. I hope that as a Town we can heal from this controversy and celebrate the spirit of volunteerism that Montreaters are known for and is critical to our governmental structure.

Thanks for your interest in and encouragement of the work of the Town. If you have any questions about this meeting summary or other town topics, please write me at [email protected] or call me at 828/669-3852.

Thank you for your support,

Mayor Tim Helms on behalf of the Town Council